The Future Of Race Relations

Some young people say Americans can do better at breaking down ethnic and racial stereotypes. CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell found some young people who are showing us how, in this latest in the CBS News "Class of 2000" series. The issue is more important than ever. In 15 years, the racial makeup of the United States will be far different. The Hispanic population will rise by 70 percent. The Asian population will almost double.

Two hours north of Seattle is Anacortes, Washington, a predominately white, seaside town rich in Alaskan oil, fishing, and timber.

Sixteen-year-old Megan Corley, the daughter of a white mother and a black father, is trying to improve race relations here. She says: "I thought if there is some way to teach kids, or let them see another side of life, different kinds of people maybe, it would change the way they think about people who are different from them."

"The class of 2000 is a pretty accepting group of kids," she says, "but we need to know how to interact with people who are different from us."

In fact, when CBS News asked members of the class of 2000 to size up race relations in their communities, they were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Overall, 76 percent of all young people--whites, blacks, and Hispanics--said race relations were generally good.

That may account for Megan's enthusiasm, and her idea to use computers to link up the kids in her school with teenagers hundreds of miles away in order to bring people of different races together in conversation.

The daily communications are giving the kids a chance to correct some misunderstandings about one another.

At first, the kids at San Diego's Garfield High School thought Megan was white. She says: "When they first found out I was mixed they treated me better."

Today, the kids in San Diego want to talk about what the kids in Anacortes thought about them when they first met. Megan answered that question during a teleconference: "Honestly, that they were just a bunch of punks, and that they didn't take this seriously. That's what I felt. That's honest."

For Megan, the girl who set out to open other people's eyes, the experience has been an eye-opening lesson in tolerance. "I am learning to accept people who don't think the way I think, don't have the same values, aren't going to the same places. That doesn't mean that they are bad people, and it doesn't mean I can't be friends with them."

It's working in San Diego, too. In the words of one teen, "I didn't care for white people before, but I care for them now."

Three quarters of the kids polled by CBS News--blacks and whites--said they had a close friend of another race, and that they're optimistic about US race relations in the future.

Adults are far less hopeful. Nearly a quarter of them told CBS News they think race relations will get worse.

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